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The Sea, Europe’s new border

Europe must wake up and deal with renewed tensions on the seas

Tensions have risen again on the seas. At the entrance to the Persian Gulf oil tankers have been attacked, in the China Sea a country with ever-increasing power is attempting to claim the waters and islands of its neighbours; Turkey looks longingly at the gas in Cypriot waters, migrants are dying in the Mediterranean and the fight against piracy continues, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea.

All over the planet the sea has become the playground for illegal action, revealing the strategy of States seeking for easy conquests. It is like a game of chess or, rather, a game of Go, in which the winner is the player who best occupies the space.

Europe, geographically the world’s smallest continental area, is also the richest and the most dependent on its trade and opening. It invented globalisation, discovered the continents, named the capes and the oceans. Its wealth has always been maritime, from Venice through to today. Europe must re-discover its maritime vocation, a vocation that address all the major challenges of today. Protecting our environment means not doing to the oceans, which cover two thirds of the planet, what we have done to the land. But the race for sub-marine resources has already started, and it must be kept under control.

Maintaining peaceful relations between States will require us to manage maritime areas in a multilateral way, with treaties, agreements and rules. Guaranteeing the safety of trade routes will require us to take action wherever freedom of navigation may be under threat, our interests taken hostage or our States subjected to blackmail. To do so we need considerable resources which are the only thing that will act as dissuasion. The safety of maritime areas means that real presence must be maintained.

And yet, with the exception of France and the United Kingdom, European naval resources are very small indeed. It is only such resources, however, that will enable us to discover, independently, what is happening on the seas, to draw the necessary consequences and to take action freely to defend our interests. The French carrier battle group, together with Danish, Portuguese and British ships is the only credible European presence in the current crisis in the Gulf. With nearly half of their oil carried through the Strait of Hormuz, Europeans must be capable of collecting information for themselves before being drawn into a possible conflict. They must be in a position to take action if maritime routes are to be threatened, as was the case during the Iran-Iraq war. The same is true in the South China Sea through which most European trade with Asia passes.

Europe is the world’s neighbour. It must be on the seas, pool its resources and support those that are already deployed to defend and promote its interests, conquer its autonomy and guarantee its independence.